Voting rights volunteers monitor polling stations to protect Latino vote

Volunteers from LatinoJustice’s Nonpartisan Cada Voto Cuenta Election Monitoring Initiative were hard at work on November 8th from dawn to the closing of voting stations. With over 300 volunteers in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and New York, the civil rights organization sought to ensure that Latino communities were able to make use of their voting rights, and assist them in doing so. La Maquina Latina followed a team of their volunteers around Washington Heights to follow the process.

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Michelle Gonzalez asks resident María Herrera about her voting experience

The volunteers’ mission is two-fold: in order to help aspiring voters, they go inside of polling stations to certify that enough translators have been called in by the city for monolingual Spanish speakers, and potentially help them with registration and figuring out their voting station. Once outside, LatinoJustice’s volunteers target citizens wearing an “I Voted” sticker to ask them how their experience went.

“We ask them about the clarity of the process, whether there was a translator present, and if they had any problems voting.” says Michelle Gonzalez, a former LatinoJustice staff member and volunteer for the day.

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Daily Guerrero helps a voter with his registration

For the first time this year, volunteers and citizens can use the Cada Voto Cuenta Voter Protection App on their phones to report any irregularities. With this application, users can insert the location of their voting station, and notify LatinoJusticeBy , who can then dispatch volunteers as well as build a database of potential occurring wrongdoing.

That is how Michelle Gonzalez, Daily Guerrero, and César Vargas ended up at the Community Health Academy of the Heights, a polling station on 158th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, in Washington Heights.

“This place wasn’t on our list originally. We came here because there were reports of translators not being on the site. We reported the problem again to make sure no translators are diverted from here.” explains Gonzalez.

A not so simple task
Unfortunately, despite the letter from the Board of Elections that volunteers wave around to be able to enter polling stations, their work is not always so simple. As they arrive at the polling station, they must sign in with the coordinators in order to be able to stay, and insist that they are indeed with a nonpartisan civil rights organization. César Vargas, of LatinoJustice, said the process looked routine.

“They’re making sure that they know who is in the polling stations and that all organizations have the proper authorizations,” Vargas said.

Once inside, things got easier, and amid the crowd of voters, some of whom struggle with English, the volunteers were able to help citizens, show them how to fill out their ballot, and once again, make sure that enough translators are present.

“We are nonpartisan, we are just here to protect the voting process.”, Daily Guerrera, a Law student at Columbia University CadaVotoCuenta volunteer, explains to an enquiring citizen.

Yet as they reached the next polling station, on Fort Washington and 173rd Street, where the entire team was earlier, César Vargas, who was alone since Michelle Gonzalez was called to The Bronx, was not allowed in.

“I just spoke to the coordinator, but she says she doesn’t want to speak to you,” said the police officer at the door.

“So long as we’re not interfering we have to have access,” Vargas tells us.

As he called the LatinoJustice offices to notify them, the coordinator came out, simply to say: “We have a full house in here so we can’t let you in.”

Indeed polling station on 158th and Amsterdam had been crowded, but the three volunteers had been able to get in. Having other stations to tend to, Vargas ended up leaving. Despite these difficulties, Latino Justice’s 90 volunteers in New York City continued their work to ensure that voters are not dissuaded from voting wherever there was little help to assist them.

Photos by Louis Baudoin-Laarman

 

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